Hosting a big event like the Olympic Games is an opportunity for any host city to show off its architectural brilliance. Thousands of people from all over the world will be flocking to London this year to attend the biggest sport event on the world calendar from 27 July to 12 August.
The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), the public body responsible for developing and building new venues and infrastructure for the games and their use after 2012, says the Olympics is an opportunity to show off the quality and inventiveness of British architecture, design, construction and engineering.
The ODA explains that designs for the main venues, infrastructure and parklands combine flair with functionality. They say that, from the onset, all these facilities have been designed with legacy in mind. “We want the Olympic Park to make an architectural statement this year,” the authority says. According to the ODA, they also want visitors to linger longer in the city and give them a place to get together after the Games. “We want the venues and Olympic Park to be as accessible as possible,” the authority adds. “We were fortunate enough to be working with many world-class architectural and design teams to create the right atmosphere.”
According to a British news website, www.torontostandard.com, London has decided to stay clear of the more show-stopping architecture and instead it has opted to use the Olympics as an opportunity to make some lasting improvements to the city. “London’s Olympic landscape will feature an array of permanent buildings designed with the future in mind alongside temporary structures that point to a more efficient way of hosting major sports events.”
The Olympic Stadium
There is a list of various venues and buildings that will showcase London’s architecture. The Olympic Stadium will take centre stage as it will host most of the athletic events, as well as the Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies. Designed to bring spectators as close as possible to the action, the Olympic Stadium bowl consists of a lower tier of 25 000 permanent seats. The seats are set into the landscape with an upper tier of 55 000 temporary seats. A sunken bowl built into the ground will contain the field of play and lower permanent seating.
Spectator access to the bowl is created via a series of entrances that is set around the perimeter of the stadium. A steel compression ring is supported on external steel columns, with cables tensioned around an inner ring to support a fabric membrane roof cover. After the Olympic Games the temporary seats will be removed, leaving a 25 000-seat bowl set in the park landscape.
The Velodrome, capable of providing seats for 6 000 visitors, was selected to host the indoor Olympic and Paralympic track cycling events as well as the BMC circuit. The venue was specifically designed to create the fastest track and best possible crowd atmosphere.
According to the website www.torontostandard.com, the Velodrome has most definitely helped to support London’s claim for the “greenest games ever”. “It is one of the most sustainable venues in the Olympic Park and its lightweight roof weighs roughly half that of any other covered Velodrome, helping to create a highly-efficient building,” the website states. “Among other features, the roof collects rainwater which is reused and recycled, increasing water efficiency in combination with other water-saving fittings.”
The hyperbolic paraboloid-shaped steel-framed structure of the Velodrome sits on a 360 degree glazed concourse at entry level, and is clad in timber with little apertures to allow for natural ventilation. The lightweight, double-curving, cable-net roof structure was designed to reflect the shape of the cycling track. The seats are located all the way around the track and are split into an upper and lower tier by the glazed concourse. 48,000 cubic metres of material was excavated to create the bowl in which the building sits. After the Olympic Games, the Velodrome will be used by elite athletes and the local community and will include a café, bike hires and cycle workshop facilities.
The Olympic Park Copper Box has been designed to be simple, efficient and flexible. External copper cladding has been used to give it a distinctive appearance that will develop a rich natural colour as it ages. Previously known as the Handball Arena, it was renamed because, aside from handball, it will also host modern pentathlon (fencing) during the Olympics and will be the goalball venue for the 2012 Summer Paralympics.
The concourse level features glazing, which encircles the building, enabling visitors to the Olympic Park to view sport taking place inside and illuminating the venue when lit at night. The venue also has a vibrant and multi-coloured interior, with retractable seating to create a flexible space and 100 light pipes in the ceiling to allow natural light into the venue.
“Impressively, its features include a rainwater harvesting system, retractable seating and 88 ‘light pipes’ in the roof that reduce the lighting bills by 40%. Construction dust from the site went into the concrete, and even the copper is mostly recycled,” cites the website www.torontostandard.com. When the Olympic Games are over, the venue will be adapted to become a multi-sport arena for community use, athlete training and small- to medium-scale events.
The Aquatics Centre will serve as the “gateway” to the Olympic Park during the Olympics. With its distinctive architecture and curved roof, the centre will be the first venue visitors see upon entering the Olympic Park. The ODA specifically choose this building to greet visitors as they believe that the design of the wavelike roof will become one of the iconic images of the Olympics Games and will provide an inspirational architectural legacy. “It will also showcase the world-class design, engineering and construction involved in delivering the 2012 venues,” the ODA states.
The venue will have a capacity of 17 500 seats, which will be reduced to a maximum of 2 500 after the games when the temporary seating is removed and the final legacy form is completed.
The Basketball Arena will be a showcase temporary venue in the Olympic Park. “It will be reused after the Olympic Games in line with our principle to only build facilities where we are confident that a long-term legacy can be secured,” the ODA states.
The venue has 12 000 seats for the basketball preliminaries and quarter-finals. It will also host the handball semi-finals and finals and will act as the holding point for athletes before they make their way to the opening and closing ceremonies.
According to the website www.torontostandard.com, the arena’s membrane is stretched over a random arrangement of curved forms. “Inside, in accordance with sporting regulations, it is essentially a black box, albeit one with eight-foot high doorways so tall players don’t bump their heads,” the website cites.
After the Olympic Games, two thirds of the materials and elements of the arena can be reused or recycled, potentially allowing other parts of the United Kingdom to benefit from London 2012.
The organisers will have a turnaround of just 22 hours to prepare the venue for five days of handball action following the basketball. The venue was completed in less than two years and was within budget at £42-million.
International broadcast Centre
An Olympic Games tournament cannot be hosted successfully without the involvement of the press. This means that thousands of journalists and news broadcast associations from all over the world have to gather at a central point to manage news coverage of an event of this scale.
The International Broadcast Centre (IBC)/Main Press Centre (MPC) will support about 20 000 broadcasters, photographers and journalists communicating the Olympic Games to an audience of four-billion people worldwide.
The IBC/MPC combines an innovative mixture of permanent and temporary elements and has been designed to be flexible to accommodate a range of potential legacy tenants and uses. The MPC will meet demanding green standards through innovations including the use of recycled non-drinking water and a “brown roof”.
After the Olympic Games, the facilities will create more than 80 000m2 of business space with the potential to generate thousands of new jobs. The London Development Agency has been leading the legacy planning for the Olympic Park site. This work will now be taken forward by the new Olympic Park Legacy Company.
The Olympic Village, which lies adjacent to the Olympic Park, will accommodate 17 000 athletes and officials during the Olympic Games and 6 000 during the Paralympic Games. Covering 91 acres, it will leave the legacy of just under 3 000 new homes, parks and community facilities which will form the first phase of a far wider regeneration and development of the whole Olympic Park.
During the Olympic Games, the development will include 11 residential blocks each consisting of five to seven buildings creating a private communal garden at the heart of each block. The overall design of the village highlights the relationship between the buildings and the streets and spaces around them, so that from the outset the athletes and later the future residents can benefit from a high-quality public realm at the heart of the Olympic Park.
“The plan reinterprets London’s tradition of building homes around communal squares and courtyards,” the ODA states. “The character and quality of the village is enhanced by the involvement of a range of architecture practices, each designing one or more of the individual buildings.”
The village will consist of shops, restaurants, medical, media and leisure facilities, large areas with open spaces and a water feature. At the heart of the community facilities a world-class new education campus will be established. The Academy is scheduled to open in September 2013. During the Olympic Games, the village will also include an “international zone” where athletes can meet with friends and family.
Showing support for the environmental movement is one of the key factors in hosting a big event like the Olympics these days. The ODA incorporated their support to this cause by creating a green walkway. The Greenway is a walkway that crosses the southern part of the Olympic Park. It is being upgraded between West Ham and the park as this forms one of the main pedestrian access routes into the park during the Olympic Games.
The design retains the “wild” natural quality which characterises the Greenway and introduces recycled lampposts, gates and street furniture to announce principal entrances. Reclaimed materials such as cobbles and bricks are being used as part of the seating, signage and viewing points along the route. “The reused materials will be used in an unexpected way in order to make the Greenway memorable,” the ODA states.
Adding to the Greenway and continuing on the theme of sustainability is the Parklands. The Olympic Park will deliver vital green infrastructure for the new community that will live, work and play in and around the Olympic Park after 2012.
Former industrial land, much of it contaminated through years of industrial neglect, is being transformed to create 100 hectares of parklands that will provide a colourful setting and a festival atmosphere for the Olympic Games and beyond. Inspired by the Victorian and post-war pleasure and festival gardens, visitors to the Olympic Park during the Olympic Games will enjoy broad sweeping lawns and footpaths leading down to riverbanks.
There will be ample seating and public spaces throughout the park with live screens showing the sporting action. The Parklands, designed for people and wildlife, will provide the setting for the London 2012 legacy sports facilities.
The southern part of the park will continue the festival atmosphere of the Olympic Games, with riverside gardens, markets, events, cafes and bars. The northern Parklands will provide a more open, ecological landscape of wetlands, woodlands and bio-diverse lawns and habitats for hundreds of existing and rare species from kingfishers to otters.
More than 30 bridges of many and varied designs will be built in and around the Olympic Park to create new connections across the site, turning one of the least accessible parts of London into an area of great connectivity.
“We are committed to making the Olympic Park as accessible as possible,” the ODA adds. The central footbridge features a single bridge structure with temporary elements in Games-time that will be transformed in legacy to leave two footbridges linked by a central bladelike walkway, linking the river tow paths and the upper concourse in the Olympic Park.
Experts’ view on the architecture
The Guardian newspaper recently convened with a panel of architects to discuss the Olympic Games architecture. Among the experts on the panel was Amanda Levete, Piers Gough, architects and critic Charles Jencks. Gough was not impressed with the copper-clad Olympic Handball Arena. “It is as dull as ditchwater,” he said during the discussions.
Aside from the Handball Arena, the panel was impressed with the design of the Velodrome and the Aquatics Centre. According to them, the Velodrome and the Aquatics Centre are the stars of the Olympic Park. Jencks said the Velodrome is tooled to perfection like a Stradivarius violin.
Gough described the Aquatics Centre as fantastic and delicious. Levete also commented on the design of the Aquatics Centre. “Without question, the Aquatics Centre is the star building,” she said. “It is a spectacular expression of its sport, resolved in its form and beautifully detailed.”
Levete was also in awe of the Velodrome after a visit to the building. According to her, spectators are treated to intimate views of the action. “The swooping rhythm of the track is echoed by the ceiling. You can feel the movement of the bikes in the architecture,” said Levete. “You can imagine the noise of the tyres on the track.”
Although the panel of experts could not get enough of the two star buildings of the show, they showed their obvious disappointment in the design of the main stadium in the Olympic Park. According to them, it lacks architectural ambition. “We expect stadiums to take your breath away and unfortunately this one doesn’t,” says Gough. “I find it unremarkable and a little bit disappointing,” said Levete. “It is not going to capture anyone’s imagination.”
She further explained her viewpoint. “Images of this building are going to be broadcast around the world. It doesn’t hold the iconography of the moment. This was the building they needed to spend money on. They should have found the money to do it.”
The Olympic Village will be the home of competitors and officials and according to the panel, transforms a little piece of the London borough into the kind of apartment block suburbia you find on the outskirts of continental European cities. “The balconies on one block even have patterns stencilled on them that look like towels hanging out to dry as if in Portugal or Spain,” says Jencks.
The village, with an academy for 1 800 students and a health centre, will be one of the legacies of the Olympics. The pavements are made from beautiful natural stone and semi-mature trees have been craned in. In a nod to the optimism of postwar Britain, the school has been designed in an updated 1950s style, using a rotunda and glass the colour of patinated copper. “This is like a design from the previous London Olympics in 1948 or the Festival of Britain,” said Jencks.
According to an article by the Guardian newspaper, the Olympic planners had the 1951 festival in mind when they started looking for different approaches to the whole project. “It was the last time that we as a nation embarked on something of this national importance,” said Kevin Owens, head of design at the London Organising Committee.
The newspaper states that the Olympic Park is unified by a tangle of waterways, lawns and thousands of newly installed plants and trees. The Parklands will expand once the Olympic Games are finished. Gough said he expects that it will be the most attractive part of the scheme.
Overall Levete is not convinced about the brilliance of the architectural styles used for the Olympics. “The architectural styles on show against this backdrop, while all resolutely modern, do not suggest a clear theme. I am a little surprised at the lack of coherence as an ensemble and it is quite difficult to understand the links between them,” said Levete. “But we have two good buildings and a disappointing stadium. That’s enough. The Velodrome and the Aquatics Centre are memorable and are world-class buildings.”
The ODA still believes that they created a backdrop to the Olympic Games that will leave a lasting impression. “We are confident that we will provide a stunning backdrop to the Olympic Games and a design legacy for eastern London that will endure long after the Olympic and Paralympic torches have been extinguished.”
Full acknowledgement and thanks are given to the Olympic Delivery Authority, the Guardian newspaper and the website www.torontostandard.com for the information given to write this
– Written by Nichelle Lemmer